afternoon conversations under a green leafed canopy on a humid summer’s day in malawi

Parables of Malawian people are carved into the massive wooden doors that open onto the stone patio at June Walkers home.  We sit in chairs at a table across from a chorus of mixed plants in various sized pots gathering around the midsection of a tree.  We sit elevated, as if on a platform in a tree house.  A vine grows up the tree and over to a balcony behind us, providing an overhead canopy of broadleaves as shelter from the fits of rain that splash down throughout the days of the rainy season.  Through the green foliage of the trees ahead, blue still waters of Lake Malawi wink and the flamboyant tree’s red blooms on the distant shoreline sparkle.  Glasses sweat as ice melts into our gin and tonics.  It’s mid day and the heat is unbearable.  Beads of rain slide down vines.

We are a few young women visiting June Walker, a spry older women who knew as a child she would live in Africa.  She and her husband moved to Malawi from the UK when she was 19 years old.  After being in Malawi some time, June and her husband bought a dusty barren plot with no shade at the lake, giving it the name Thantwe, meaning “bedrock where nothing grows” in Chichewa.  They hooked up a simple electrical system and began to build a home designed by themselves.  As rainwater washed down the slope of the plot towards the lake shore, they built a system of channels that direct the water to their gardens.  They planted trees, terraced gardens, and cultivated their own vegetables, fruits, and herbs.  A pond in front of the house cools the house as the air comes off the lake, over the pond, and in through louvered windows.  Over time, Thantwe has grown thick and lush, a far cry from its dusty barren beginnings.

Tara has come to visit June with a friend who is traveling back to Australia after working in Malawi for three years.  Tara is in her mid-twenties, of Iranian descent, and lives on the lake as well, but up in the hills, near the Mozambique side.  As we sip gin and tonics, I wonder if the quinine in the tonic will protect me from malaria like how the British used it long ago.  We talk about permaculture, bio-architecture, and life in Malawi.  Tara tells us about her gardens at her plot and the baboons that are destroying them.  Whatever she plants, they eat.  Indiscriminately they eat every bit of the food available, leaving nothing for her.  She notices they hide from her, and as soon as she leaves the house she catches them sneaking back into the garden.  The baboons are clever and nothing will keep them away.

With a highly animated demeanor, I hear Tara say she stood with her tutu on the front porch and shot the baboons, three of them.  There was no other solution, she tells us, and I laugh at the persistence and cleverness of the baboons as well as the image of this chick wearing a pink tutu and shooting at the baboons that won’t stay out of her garden.  She goes on about the baboons and shows us the anklet she’s made from the bullets, mixed with blue and white beads and a metal heart pendant.  I am grappling with the notion of her wearing a tutu while she shoots a gun on her front porch until I realize that the gun I know as a twenty-two is referred to in other parts of the world as a two-two.

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